Andrew Bynum: Does He Have the Maturity to Succeed with the Los Angeles Lakers?

Howard RubenContributor IApril 8, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 06:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers leaves the game after fouling out of the game with his second technical foul against the Houston Rockets during the second half at Staples Center on April 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  The Rockets won 112-107.   (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The short answer to the question of whether or not Andrew Bynum is mature enough to succeed in Los Angeles is absolutely.

After that, it gets complicated.

Take a closer look, and you'll discover that Andrew Bynum has already succeeded in L.A. At 24 years of age, the 7'0", 285-pound center for the Lakers has won two world championships and has his sights on several more.

Bynum hit his stride this year, coming to camp in the best shape of his seven-year career, determined to stay healthy and make a name for himself as one of the league's elite big men. He not only stayed healthy—not missing a single game until last week when a sore ankle kept him out of one contest—but also made his first All-Star Game as the starting center for the Western Conference.

The statistics do not lie; Andrew Bynum has become a dominant player. He's averaging career highs in points (18.3), field-goal percentage (58 percent) and rebounds (11.8). He scored 36 on a sore ankle last Wednesday in a big win over the Clippers.

Yet the questions remain about Bynum's immaturity, as evidenced by him getting ejected from Friday night's game at home against Houston. After getting his first technical foul following a push from Rockets center Samuel Dalembert, Bynum was told by his coaches and teammates to maintain his calm because they needed him on the court for the fourth quarter.

That lasted less than a minute. Right after scoring with a post move early in the quarter that brought the Lakers to within two points of Houston, Bynum turned to the Rockets bench and began to trash talk directly in front of the referee. He was ejected at the 11:17 mark and quickly headed for the Lakers locker room. So much for "getting his zen on."

Mike Brown clearly was not happy with his star center and said as much after the game. He told LA Times beat writer Mark Medina: "Picking up a second technical and getting kicked out of the game, he leaves his teammates out there. Call it whatever you want to call it.  But it's not right."

Some pundits feel that Bynum does not like playing for Brown, and that is the main reason why he's been acting out of late—taking three-point shots and then saying he would take more even though his coach did not approve; missing a team meeting with general manager Mitch Kupchak and telling reporters that no one informed him of the meeting; telling reporters that he doesn't talk before games and playing loud music in the locker room before games.

Nothing illegal here; just annoying and disruptive.

Have we seen it before? Of course; we saw it from a young Kobe Bryant early in his career, and we saw it in Bynum last year when he decked tiny guard J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs.

Metta World Peace can relate to Bynum, saying that he came into the league as a fighter and had to learn the hard way. Remember, he was suspended a league-record 86 games for going into the stands during a game with the Pistons in 2004 and punching a fan who threw beer on him. MWP and other Lakers, such as Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, feel Bynum deserves their support as well.

Reporter Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register feels the team and others need to cut Bynum some slack and realize just how hard he has worked to rehabilitate himself from knee surgeries and to look at how far he has come and how much he has contributed and how much he wants to win.

Just bear in mind next time Bynum is acting immature that his timeline is more paradoxical than plain. The guy has overcome multiple misfortunes with his knees that would've sapped the hope and fight out of weaker-minded folks. He has worked at his health, diet and craft to become so important to the Lakers now and in the future that everyone is worried he can't handle this epic responsibility.

Of course, the Lakers want to gain greater control of Bynum and have a more polished product at this point. But the reality is that Bynum, who has already won multiple titles and mentally accepted playing elsewhere after all the trade rumors, needs the Lakers a lot less than the Lakers need him.

And so, Andrew Bynum remains a puzzle. His ejection from the Houston game was, as television play-by-play man Bill McDonald so aptly put it, "silly and inexcusable." He's ticked off former Lakers greats James Worthy and Magic Johnson with his sophomoric stunts, the former saying that such behavior would not have been tolerated back when he was a Laker.

On Saturday in Phoenix, Bynum was contrite when asked about the incident, saying he had no regrets for what happened. Still, he did admit to LA Times reporter Mike Bresnahan that "It's just about not getting too frustrated and really finding a peaceful place. I feel good about my game, and I'm confident."

So does Bynum have the maturity to succeed in Los Angeles? He has worked hard to regain his health and take his game to another level.

I think he can. But the real question is: Does Andrew Bynum wish to stay here and become the center of this great franchise when Bryant retires? 

Or, is he looking ahead to being a free agent and possibly finding a new home in Brooklyn, closer to where he grew up (New Jersey) and where the Nets will be playing next season at the new Barclays Center?

For now, "Club 17" just needs to focus on playing the game "the right way." And that means acting mature and responsible and not letting your entire team down by getting thrown out of critical games at critical junctures.

It's just silly and inexcusable.